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VOICE OF AMERICA
SLUG: 2-314180 Gaza Fighting
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=3/17/2004

TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT

TITLE= GAZA FIGHTING L

NUMBER=2-314180

BYLINE= LARRY JAMES

DATELINE=JERUSALEM

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

INTRO: An Israeli helicopter killed at least one Palestinian in a missile attack in the Gaza Strip Wednesday, bringing to five the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli military action in the past 24 hours. VOA's Larry James reports from Jerusalem.

TEXT: Israeli military sources say a helicopter crew fired at a group of armed men who had been shooting at Israeli troops. The soldiers had raided the Rafah refugee camp earlier, demolishing seven houses.

The operation is the third Israeli action in Gaza in a new campaign aimed at militants and their leaders responsible for attacks against Israel.

The military incursion into Gaza began Tuesday evening and resumed early Wednesday morning. It came just hours after Israel's Security Cabinet approved a military response to a double suicide bombing in the port of Ashdod on Sunday.

In Gaza Wednesday, Palestinian gunmen confronted the Israeli troops, setting off an explosive device and firing an anti-tank shell at them. There were no reports of Israeli casualties. Palestinian gunmen took up positions on rooftops and piled up huge mounds of sand on all roads into the Jabalya refugee camp to slow Israeli access.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade militant group has vowed to fight any Israeli moves into the camp, and has called on the Palestinian Authority to distribute weapons to all Palestinians so that they can fight back.

Israel Radio quoted senior military sources on Wednesday as saying the ongoing operation would not involve a reoccupation of Gaza.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat condemned the Israeli raids accusing the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of trying to destroy Gaza.

Also on Wednesday, gunmen from the militant group Hamas fought Palestinian Authority officers in a gun battle in front of the military intelligence headquarters in Gaza City. Reports said one man, a civilian bystander, was killed and at least 17 others were wounded in the exchange of fire.

Reporters in Gaza described a tense situation following the gunfight. They said Palestinian security forces have now taken up positions around the main military headquarters.

Palestinian Authority security forces have stepped up patrols in Gaza in recent days in response to signs of a breakdown in law and order. There has been a series of attacks on symbols of the Palestinian Authority and assaults on media figures, including the shooting death of a journalist with close ties to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. (Signed)

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